Men’s 200 IM:
There’s no denying the fact that two American men have reigned king in the men’s 200 IM going back all the to the beginning of this century. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have dominated the event through U.S. Olympic Trials, Olympic Games, World Championships and every meet in between, beginning with Phelps’ crushing victory in at the 2003 World Championships to Lochte’s recent gold medal-winning performance in Kazan.
Phelps, the defending Olympic gold medalist, and Lochte, 2012’s silver medalist, own the top 11 performances of all time in this event, led by Lochte’s world record-setting swim of 1:54.00 at the 2011 World Championships.
Olympics-wise, Phelps has three-peated gold in the men’s 200 IM, winning the world’s biggest prize in 2004, 2008 and 2012. And, the man gives us no reason to doubt he’ll rake in his 4th consecutive gold medal in this event in Rio.
The 31-year-old holds the fastest time on the globe through the Olympic qualifying period with the 1:54.75 he threw down at the 2015 U.S. Nationals in San Antonio, a time that comfortably beat Lochte’s 1:55.81 winning time from Kazan. Phelps toned things down a tad at the U.S. Trials in Omaha, where it took him just 1:55.91 to take the top roster spot, with Lochte right behind in 1:56.22, but his ripped physique didn’t look totally worn out and it’s unlikely either swimmer was fully tapered for Omaha.
Although falling just short to make an Olympic spot in the 400m IM event, Lochte is still a monster in this shorter event, keeping pace with Phelps throughout the last decade. He managed a mighty 1:54.98 at the 2013 Barcelona World Championships, won this race in Kazan and racing side-by-side next to Phelps always brings out the best in this 31-year-old.
If there’s anyone who can rain on the Phelps/Lochte parade, however, it’s Japan’s Kosuke Hagino. At just 21 years of age, the dynamic swimmer is a full decade younger than his stars n’ stripes counterparts, and has proven his range over a multitude of events. In Rio, Hagino will be contesting both IM events, as well as the 200 freestyle, but he’s also among the world’s best in events ranging from the 200m backstroke to the 1500m freestyle (sans goggles, even).
Hagino has come as close to breaking the 1:55 threshold as the 1:55.07 he threw down to win the event at Japanese Trials, sitting within two tenths of a second from Phelps’ San Antonio swim. Hagino, who has expressed his reverence of Phelps in interviews, would not be intimidated, but rather would relish the opportunity to swim next to the 22-time Olympic medalist. As with Lochte, racing right next to Phelps, something he hasn’t done since 2012, would potentially give Hagino that extra push he needs to take his 200 IM to the 1:54-level.
Beyond the top 3 of Phelps, Hagino and Lochte, the field’s next tier is composed of two Brazilians. Mainstay competitor Thiago Pereira holds 1:56.65 as his best time since London, the mark which garnered a silver behind Lochte in Kazan. Pereira also wrangled in a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games, clocking a time of 1:57.42.
Perhaps more importantly than even his times, however, is simply the fact that Pereira is headed to his 4th Olympic Games appearance and this time it’s in his home nation. Nothing drives the competition past their own expectations more than a crowd roaring behind him with the thought of standing on the podium with the host country’s flag raised behind him.
Such thoughts will also be going through the mind of Pereira’s teammate, Henrique Rodrigues. At 25 years old, Rodrigues had a breakthrough performance at last year’s Pan American Games in Toronto, claiming the 200m IM gold in a new Games’ record of 1:57.06. He’s yet to be in the range that would threaten the podium, but he’ll certainly have enough rabbits to chase to make every attempt to do so.
Additional competitors entering the mix include China’s Wang Shun, Australia’s Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Great Britain’s Dan Wallace. Wang Shun scored a time of 1:56.81 to earn a bronze medal in Kazan, but would need to drop almost 2 seconds to fight for the bronze in Rio.
Fraser-Holmes is an athlete who is a 200m IM mogul in his home country of Australia, but still needs to drop significant time to score a lifetime best to be in the level that would cause the Phelpses and Lochtes of the world to tremble.
Finally, Wallace is somewhat of a wild card. The British swimmer and former Florida Gator finished 4th in this event at the 2015 World Championships, but had a rather disastrous British Olympic Trials earlier this year. He wound up 6th in the event at the London Aquatics Centre, stopping the clock at 2:00.26, a mark which wouldn’t have made it out of prelims at the 2012 Olympic Games. In fact, he snagged his British Olympic roster spot based on ‘coaches’ discretion’, rather than because he raced to a qualifying time.
Wallace’s outcome in Rio depends on what kind of swimmer he brings to the table – the one from Kazan, or the one from London.
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